Gamification Pain Point

As introduced in our previous blog entry, “Why Use Gamification?”, we defined the concept of gamification, described some use cases, and focused specifically on its role in learning. More specifically, we discussed how gamification can enhance the effectiveness of eLearning. In this blog, we’ll explore a common gamification pain point experienced by eLearning designers and end-users: the misconception that gamification is easy to add to new or existing courses.

Karl Kapp offers the following meta-definition of gamification as “using game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.” This definition is deceptively straightforward but much more difficult to enact. If you are short on budget or development experience and think that bolting on a few bells and whistles (game-based mechanics) borrowed from actual games will increase learner knowledge retention, you are sorely mistaken. The process of gamification, if done well, takes planning, commitment, and know-how. While it’s true that the game-based mechanics like scoring, rewards, and badges are part of gamification, simply applying them without enough consideration to the overall experience, or more importantly the learning itself, is a set up for disaster. Kapp suggests that gamification shines when its elements are applied as an integrative set that creates an experience “more than the sum of the parts”.2 When this happens, something magical takes place. Learners forget they are learning and become motivated to continue, almost unknowingly, not only because the content was conveyed in a novel, story-like way, but because the learning was fun.

In a poorly implemented gamification experience, the game-based elements get in the way of learning and make it inefficient and time-consuming. If done well, the eLearning designer has compelling content that learners are eager to consume. In this scenario, learners want to rack up points or explore extra levels to gain a needed badge, regardless of what gets in the way. At worst, the content is not compelling to the average learner and if points or badges equate to extra button clicks or added time to the learner, the feedback about the course will be largely negative. Worse still, learners may simply choose to quit the course. You’ve then lost any chance at meeting any of your learning goals, much less business goals.

Once you’ve determined that gamification is the right strategy, be sure to take into account precisely how the learner will experience every facet of his or her journey in your course. Think about what makes a good story and build that into the overall design because, well, everyone loves a good story. We all want to know how the story ends. Take the necessary time to introduce the characters, describe the problem to be solved, and how any game-based elements help to tell the story. Reward or punish learners for actions they take to solve the problems presented in the story. Taking these factors into account when building your gamified eLearning module will set you up to design an engaging learning experience that surpasses learning requirements and increases business impact.

  1. Kapp, Karl M. (2012-04-13). The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education (Kindle Locations 814-815). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  2. Kapp, Karl M. (2012-04-13). The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education (Kindle Location 893). Wiley. Kindle Edition.”.